It has become fairly standard for employers to view the social media sites of prospective workers in order to learn more about them.

A recent Associated Press report, however, detailed a new and disturbing trend of employers actually asking job-seekers to surrender their Facebook login and password information. The employers then spend time scouring the page for whatever intelligence they can gather. Some employers demand that new hires “friend” them on Facebook or allow them to follow Twitter accounts.

This is an outrageous invasion of privacy with no justification for the vast majority of occupations.

The line between private lives and public personas often gets blurred online, but the line exists. Facebook users have the option to keep most, if not all, messages, photos and other elements private, accessible only by those chosen by the users. Those communications are private. An employer has no more right to see them than to enter a person’s house and rummage through the dresser.

There might be instances when it is appropriate for employers to monitor social networking sites of their workers — if, for example, security clearances are required. The vast majority of employers, however, have no legitimate reason to invade the private lives of workers.

Job-seekers are finding themselves forced to choose between employment and privacy. It is a choice they shouldn’t have to make.

At a time when unemployment is high and just about any job is better than no job at all, employers hold the upper hand. They should not abuse this power. Employers should respect the privacy of prospective employees and stop demanding access to Internet accounts that are otherwise off-limits to the public.

— The Knoxville News Sentinel, Tennessee, March 23

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